In an exclusive workshop on Storytelling with Data at People Matters TechHR 2019, Indranil Chakraborty, popularly known as IC, brought to light interesting insights on how can companies and individuals leverage the power of storytelling to make their audience more receptive to the data being shared, and establish a connect that triggers immediate action.
IC has two decades of experience in leading teams and driving change at top firms including Unilever, Tata Group and Mahindra and Mahindra. He launched Storyworks in 2013 with the goal of helping organizations and leaders harness the natural power of stories to make key messages like vision, values, strategy and change communication, stick with the employees.
What is storytelling in business?
Speaking of the relevance of storytelling with data, IC shared that in the context of business, stories are facts wrapped in context and delivered with emotion.
Stories are an account of a series of events with an establishment of causality, a connection between them. Among the very first pieces of data visualization was a map called the “John Snow map of Cholera”, created by Dr. John Snow, basis the data he was able to map with the help of a local priest in Soho. The data points they mapped were connected to a series of deaths within a short period of time in a particular area of the city. With specific data about the whereabouts and routine activities, regularly visited places and many more such findings, Dr. Snow was able to connect the dots, which helped him establish the existence of Cholera, before the Government. He was able to establish causality between the events and could tell a story.
Stating how businesses rely majorly on data and analysis to bring about any change, IC added that while presenting any recommended changes to your management, you often have data and analysis with you, yet if the management is not convinced, you go back to gather more data or come up with a better analysis. He believes that the problem here is not with the data.
"If you look back at things that people push back on, you need to ask the question - is it that they have a different set of data or is it a different belief. If it is a different belief, then data is not going to work, because the only way you can replace belief is with a more powerful story," said IC.
Belief is a story, you can’t replace story with data.
Storytelling in business is about experiences that strike a chord. They are essentially a series of sequential events, wrapped in context and delivered with emotion.
With a majority of your time being invested in creating decks for your management, clients, new joinees, are you able to create the impact you desire? Are facts and figures of the company’s success or numbers indicating major losses enough for you as a presenter, to generate a desired response? The answer is no.
The ability of a story to strike an emotional connect with the audience enables the presenter to either trigger immediate action or create a sense of urgency among the listeners.
But why stories? Here is why:
- Stories are Memorable
- Stories inspire Action
- Stories give Context
- Stories have an Impact
- Stories Spread
- Stories inspire Lean-in behaviour
One would often tend to think that stories are not for professionals, it is only a form of entertainment, IC challenges this very belief. He strongly advocates the relevance and impact of leveraging stories to invoke a desirable response from across the table. To ensure a credible narrative, however, there are key points to keep in mind from a business perspective. Stories in business, while being authentic and true must include:
- Time marker/location marker
- Causal sequence of events
- Stories need to have characters, characters need to have names
- There needs to be an Aha moment, something unexpected
- There has to be a BUSINESS POINT
Data Visualization vs Storytelling
Data visualization uses a particular visual, for instance a graph, to get a message across. There is no story in the graph, there is a message in the graph. When you put these messages together you may get a story or a story structure. What you have as data is nothing but a summary of incidences, profit incidences, error incidences, customer service incidences, mostly incidences. It’s a combination of stories.
In the context of business, you can drive your narrative either through storytelling or data visualization, better yet, you can present data to your audience in a manner that reveals a story.
In the business sense, essentially represent your data points in a manner that allow your audience to observe a pattern in the data, instead of loading your slides with heavy graphs and numbers that lead to confusion. In order to create a presentation or demonstration with the most effective data visualization, one must:
- Understand the context
- Choose an appropriate visual display
- Eliminate clutter
- Focus attention where you want it
CONTEXT is key. The most crucial aspect in any presentation, visual or verbal is giving context to the data, stories work magic in creating this context and establishing a connect, which in turn helps you get your message across. In your head you are clear about what you intend to convey, what are the data points and what is the underlying message, However, when you disseminate this message to your audience, creating a context for them to place the set of data points gives them clarity and helps them establish a connect with what you intend to share.
Highlighting the difference between data visualization and storytelling, IC said that data visualization is important but it is not storytelling, “Data Visualization helps you understand why did an event happen and what is it about, then you get into the story of what happened, and you bring that together, that is when you get data storytelling.”